Beams (Horseshoe Tavern - January 22nd 2015) -
It's snow joke.......!

For those of you outside of Canada, bear in mind that when the snow hits, it’s difficult getting across town let alone significant distances. So it was appropriate that snow travel stories were in high supply. Beams related their scary journey back from Chicago following the recording of their latest offering and Loon Choir managed to arrive from Ottawa on a night when the Streetcars in Toronto froze. That said, Canadians don’t let winter interfere and the night provided some brilliant music, no one could complain of the cold by the end of the gig.

Opening the night was Jose Contreras, the lead singer of By Divine Right, who in contrast to every other night at The Horseshoe was faced with a quiet and respectful audience and yes, we really were in The Horseshoe. Contreras delivered a solo set with acoustic guitar and the occasional reverb, which sounds pretty basic, but which was beautifully delivered.

Drawing mostly from his solo album, released in 2014, entitled ‘Jose Contreras’, the set included ‘Listen To My Angels’, with a picked reverb introduction and nicely delivered guitar/vocal balance throughout. A new song, ‘Everything Is New’ written for an upcoming TIFF release soundtrack followed. with ‘At The Slaughterhouse’, a song about Contreras’ rehearsal space up next. Consummately at ease in front of a growing audience, songs about relationships breaking up, ‘This Is Real’ and cottage experiences, ‘Grand Central’ followed, which made the silence while the songs were played almost reverential. The closer ‘Silver Thread’, again from the solo album is a song about hanging on and encapsulated the entire set with a seriously strong vocal delivery. Overall, a very good set from an experienced and accomplished performer, now, when are By Divine Right playing next?

Syn Brit Rating 4/5


Facebook: Jose Contreras
Twitter: @ByDivineRight

The Horseshoe doesn’t have a small stage, but when there are nine of you on stage all night, then you had better like one another. Fortunately for everyone concerned, Loon Choir, seem to get along just fine. The band consist of Derek Atkinson (Vox/ Guitar), Brad Sheffield (Synth), Celeste Côté (Vox/Piano), Paul Wilson (Guitar), Dave Rankin (Guitar/Bagpipes), Craig Barlow (Bass/Vox), Baris Bilgen (Drums), Kathleen Cauley (Violin), Olga Osotkina (Violin) and yes, I said Bagpipes.

The nine song set consisted mostly of new numbers, with three older numbers, but such was the quality of the whole set, you could have been forgiven in thinking that all of the songs played had been recorded and released earlier. Opening with ‘Hope’, with a slow build intro followed by some great violin riffs, we were already won over. An older song ‘Colours’ followed with a quirky staccato rhythm and by now it was clear that the overall sound production heard was the 10th member of the band, invisible, but ever present. A reference to Tim Findley’s book ‘The Wars’ followed and the band played ‘Bug’, and ‘Mountains’, a slower tune. With nine people on stage it would be easy to hide, but every member played their part with tremendous timing. The spoken intro of ‘Fire Songs, led straight into ‘All Boats Don’t Rise’ with its thumping riff and great lead, harmony and backing vocals.
‘Platitude’ was next, the keys for which would not have sounded out of place on a Gary Numan album and which pounced along supported by a great bass line and a pounding beat. Another older tune followed, ‘Spirals’ that once again encapsulated the great lead and backing vocals which are synonymous with this band’s sound. The last song was ‘Shipping’, another new song, but which didn’t look out of place at all. Overall, a really very good set with the band totally into their set, having fun and singing the words even when they weren’t on mic, now that’s togetherness right there.

Syn Brit Rating 4/5

Website: Loon Choir
Twitter: @loonchoir
You Tube: All Boats Don't Rise

During the course of 2014 we saw Beams on this very stage, as the opening act for Cuff the Duke, in what was an exceptional night. Fast forward some ten months and here they are headlining their own show to celebrate the release of their new single. That’s represents real progress from a very talented band, but that only tells part of the story. The band consists of Anna Mernieks (Banjo/vocals) and Heather Mazhar (Vocals), Keith Hamilton (Saw/Vibraphone/Vocals), Martin Crawford (Lap Steel Guitar), Dave Hamilton Mandolin), Craig Moffatt (Bass) and Mike Duffield (Drums).

With a great sound from the very beginning of their opening track, ‘The Way We Run’, the A side from the new single, they dropped a new song into the set, before storming into full on versions of both ‘How Wonderful’, which featured a saw being played and ‘Be My Brother’. By this time the packed crowd were already bouncing to some tremendous pitch perfect vocals and an overall sound that showed both an increased maturity and confidence.

A brief reference to be able to crowd surf at a gig in the future was followed by more new material and by the time ‘White Belly’ was played the band were in full flow, happy and dancing on stage. Indeed, when ‘What Would You Say’ was played, a full on bluegrass party had broken out both on and off stage. The final song of the main set was the B side of the new single, ‘Black Shadows’ that once again featured their by now signature pitch perfect, powerful, harmonic vocal delivery. Their encore opened with ‘Where Our Cabin Lies’ from their debut album, again beautifully executed, before the band let loose with two covers, ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ and full on, no holds barred version of ‘Psycho Killer’, with Keith added on lead vocals, which was stunning.

In closing, it would be easy to say, ‘ooh, look a banjo’ and label them as a bluegrass band, but Beams are much more than that. It’s clear they are influenced by a lot of different styles and genres (listen to their version of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’), but added to that, their set displayed a level of maturity and comfort with each other that many bands rarely achieve. In addition, the new material, especially the new single, indicates that there is much more to come from them and we look forward to seeing them develop their full potential.

Syn Brit Rating 5/5

Website: Beams
Twitter: @beamstheband
You Tube: Black Shadows

Until the next time……… The Moose
Beams - Horseshoe Tavern – January 22nd

Jose Contreras

Beams - Horshoe Lounge 22nd January

Loon Choir

Beams - Horshoe Lounge 22nd January


Beams - Horshoe Lounge 22nd January


All photos reproduced by kind permission of